The News & Observer has responded quickly to the market shift brought on by the abrupt changes Paxton made, including picking up some newsroom staff tossed overboard by the new management. The N&O has hired former H-S columnist Jim Wise onto the staff, and he'll be a columnist in The Durham News. Flo Johnston, another Paxton victim, will become an N&O correspondent, and former H-S cartoonist John Cole will be making contributions to the section. And the paper will have two new staff writers, one focusing on local businesses and the other on schools and sports.
The N&O has also lured away longtime H-S reporter and current metro editor Mark Schultz, who will be in charge of both the Orange County bureau of the newspaper and its community paper there, The Chapel Hill News.
And The Herald-Sun cuts have continued. Last week, nine pressmen lost their jobs, leading some to wonder if that indicates the impending demise of The Chapel Hill Herald, the wrap-around section of all-Orange County news that is a mainstay of the paper's coverage there.
On Jan. 12, the Independent first reported that industry sources said Paxton paid $125 million, double The Herald-Sun's estimated value, when it bought the paper from the Rollins family last December. Financial pressure from the purchase might explain the abrupt nature of the firings, which Paxton officials said were necessary to make the newspaper profitable. That means that as the H-S grapples with aggressive new competition, any subsequent infusion of cash from Paducah looks unlikely.
Meanwhile, the N&O is in a highly unusual position for a competitor. Executives from McClatchy Newspapers, the Sacramento, Calif.-based chain that owns the N&O, were one of a small group of prospective buyers who were given complete access to information about the Herald-Sun's finances and market strategy. While standard legal agreements prevent those execs from sharing details with their Raleigh heads, it's clear that McClatchy is backing a Durham invasion with enthusiasm and financial support for new staff, deeply discounted subscriptions and extensive home delivery.